Israel tightens coronavirus restrictions

What happened: The Israeli cabinet last night approved further measures restricting daily life in a bid to combat the coronavirus. The number of infected Israelis has increased to 2030, with five deaths, as of this morning.

  • The new emergency measures allow shopping for essential food and medical supplies, but limit outdoor excursions to no more than 100 metres from one’s home and a ban on sporting activity. Food delivery from restaurants will still be allowed although take-away has been stopped . In addition, public transport will cease almost completely and synagogues will be closed.
  • Businesses will not yet be closed completely, although temperature readings will be taken at entrances. Business leaders have pushed back against the Health Ministry’s demand for a full lockdown over the country.
  • Police will enforce the new guidelines and are expected to begin issuing NIS 500 fines (£117) and possibly suspended jail sentences for violators.
  • The closure of synagogues was reportedly a major point of contention between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (head of the United Torah Judaism party). The decision was ultimately made due to the high rate of infections resulting from synagogue services and events.
  • The Education Ministry will also resume “remote learning” classes for students at home, after negotiations with the Teachers Union led to a compromise on salary and holidays.

Context: The Health Ministry has been highlighting the dire threat to the country if the virus is not contained with officials warning that a million people could be infected leading to 10,000 deaths by the Passover holiday in mid-April.

  • In the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, 60 coronavirus cases have been identified, although 16 have reportedly recovered. A state of emergency and curfew have been instituted in areas of the West Bank under PA control, and movement between local authority areas has been stopped.
  • According to the Times of Israel, the PA are calling on all Palestinian labourers in Israel – approximately 40,000 people – to return to the West Bank due to the threat of further outbreaks and restrictions in Israel. Israel had previously said that Palestinian workers could remain in Israel for one to two months and not return to the West Bank.
  • In Gaza, there have so far been 2 confirmed coronavirus cases – both quarantined – although only 148 tests have been carried out. Hamas authorities have shut down mosques, schools and government offices in a bid to contain the outbreak. International aid agencies are warning that Gaza’s meagre health system may collapse if infections begin to rise.
  • Jordan earlier this week placed the entire country on full lockdown, banning anyone from leaving their homes. The government said basic supplies like bread, water, medicine and fuel would be delivered to citizens’ homes. Jordan has 127 cases of coronavirus.
  • Lebanon has placed the entire country on near full lockdown, with guidelines in place similar to Israel’s. The country has 304 identified coronavirus cases. A taxi driver in northern Lebanon tried to set himself and his vehicle on fire yesterday, after being stopped and fined by police officers for carrying more than the allowed 1 passenger.
  • Egypt has imposed a nightly curfew for the next two weeks as schools, universities, and airports are shut. The country has 366 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21 deaths.

Looking ahead: Israel is heading towards the imposition of a full lockdown, although concerns are growing among business leaders and government officials about the economic cost of such measures to contain the outbreak.

  • The main test of the new restrictions highlighted above will be the level of enforcement by police, including fines handed out to violators.
  • The government’s next step will almost certainly be to deploy increasing numbers of police, Border Police and Israel Defence Force personnel to enforce the new measures.

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